'Our national shame': Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt blasts British society’s neglect of its elderly

Jeremy Hunt's provocative speech blaming public for growing isolation of old people is welcomed by charities

Up to a million elderly people are being consigned to a life of loneliness and ill health because of society’s shameful failure to take responsibility for older relatives, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will say today.

In a provocative speech, Mr Hunt will warn that too many old people are unnecessarily placed into care or left isolated in their own homes when they could be looked after by relatives. He will also call on Britain to learn from other cultures where “the social contract” between young and old is far stronger.

Mr Hunt’s comments, which have been welcomed by charities, represent the first time that the Government has waded into the controversial debate around society’s responsibility towards Britain’s growing elderly population.

But it also highlights the concern amongst ministers at the increasing cost to the state of looking after people who might otherwise be cared for by relatives.

In the speech to the National Children and Adults Service (NCAS) conference, Mr Hunt is expected to highlight research showing there are now 800,000 people in England who are chronically lonely. And he will claim that “each and every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship”.

“There is a problem of loneliness that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society,” he will say. “Apart from the sheer cost of human unhappiness, loneliness is as bad for one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is worse for you than obesity because it increases the risk of heart disease, blood clots and dementia.”

He adds that the lonely elderly “live amongst us – ignored to our national shame”. Mr Hunt, who has a Chinese wife, will say that he has been “struck by the reverence and respect for older people in Asian culture” and suggest that Britain has much to learn from the way other countries look after and respect the elderly.

“In those countries, when living alone is no longer possible, residential care is a last rather than a first option,” he will say. “And the social contract is stronger because as children see how their own grandparents are looked after, they develop higher expectations of how they too will be treated when they get old… We must learn from this – and restore and re-invigorate the social contract between generations.”

Mr Hunt will stress he believes there are clear circumstances when a care home was the “right option” for an older person. And he says no family should feel condemned for taking “that difficult decision”. But he adds it is important not to have to settle for care that is just “good enough”.

Caroline Abrahams, director of the charity Age UK, said she agreed with Mr Hunt that “a seismic shift is needed in attitudes towards older people and ageing in this country”.

But she added she was extremely concerned that cuts to local authority budgets were exacerbating the problem of loneliness because they are causing the closure of many support services for older people, like lunch clubs.

“We can all do our bit to help fight the growing problem of loneliness by making time for older relatives, friends and neighbours,” she said. “But the Government must also take action to address the huge gap in social care funding.”

Further reading:

Case study: 'People can get isolated just through the process of getting old'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us